Thursday, October 22, 2020

Where's Charlie?

(Screen Capture from Film¹)

He was awakened well before dawn by a cold drop of water falling from the pine above him, hitting him square in the ear hole. He was wet, shivering, and pretty damned miserable. Though he'd managed to burrow into the detritus of the forest floor to keep himself partially dry, most of the old leaves and pine needles were themselves sodden from the recurring wet weather of the past month. At least he didn't get any wetter.

This wasn't the first time he'd been out in a forest by himself in the fall. But that had been back home where he was ready for it and could have built a fire. To do that here was to invite death from the men up the hill. He had heard them throughout the night. It's not that they were noisy, it was just that their human noises stood out. The scrape of shovel, the low mutter of conversation.

At one point a man up the hill had started screaming, something sounding like "brent²" was repeated again and again. The sound gave Gammell the willies, no doubt a wounded man was all he could figure. The screams had ended sometime in the small hours of the morning.

Grenadier Peter Böhm had been screaming for hours. Though the Sanitäter, Peter Krause, had done his best to keep the white phosphorus burns wet, they were just too extensive. Böhm was half-naked in the rain, the pain must have been incredible. Around two in the morning, he had started to convulse, shortly thereafter he was dead.

Krause made his way to the company CP, which in this position was wherever the captain happened to be.

"Herr Hauptmann, Grenadier Böhm is dead."

"I figured as much when he stopped screaming." von Lüttwitz looked around to make sure no one could overhear them talking, his new radioman, Grenadier Leopold Beck, also the company tailor, was sleeping nearby, but von Lüttwitz didn't think anything could awaken the man at that point. Böhm had been one of the men he had led out of France. There had been seven all told, now only five still lived.

"You didn't help him along Sani?"

"No sir." Krause managed to look offended, "Believe me, I was tempted. Some of the men were ready to kill him, afraid that his screams would give away our position. I managed to get him to calm down, but the pain was too much."

Von Lüttwitz sighed and thought back to when Opa Köhler had reported in that the tank threat to their left flank was no more. Young Willi Stolz had managed to destroy the lead Ami tank but had been killed in the process. At the moment he commanded a company of twenty men, normally a company had two officers and one hundred and forty men, he had a seventh of that. Technically he had twenty-one men, but his sergeant major was badly wounded. Krause thought he would die sometime in the night, but he was still alive.

"How is der Spieß?" Krause figured he'd ask before going to check on him, perhaps he was dead already.

"He's a tough old bastard, I think he's too stubborn to die. It's obvious he's in pain but he refuses to be evacuated. In fact, he's in the dugout with the wrecked MG 42. He has a rifle and says he is content to fight on." von Lüttwitz didn't like the man all that much, but you had to admire the old Prussian's fire.

Sgt Jack Wilson and PFC Howie Dickenson were well into the forest when the sun rose. They had hoped to find Gammell right away, but they were either in the wrong place or Gammell was dead or captured. Wilson was sure that the Krauts had stayed in their trenches, but you never knew, they were awfully clever when it came to soldiering.

"You guys gonna stand there until the Krauts shoot you, or what?"

Dickenson nearly jumped out of his skin when he heard Gammell's voice not three feet to his right.

Wilson looked in that direction and noticed that a nearby pile of leaves had eyes. "Jesus, Charlie, is that you?"

"Yeah Sarge, I'm cold and wet, can we go home now?"

"Sure Charlie, you still have your weapon?"

"Smashed to Hell when Bear and I were bombarded. Have you found Bear yet?"

"Yup, mortar explosion rolled his ass halfway back to the States, knocked him cold. When he regained consciousness he had no idea where he was, so he went downhill. He's banged up a bit, and goofier than usual, but he's okay."

"Sarge are we gonna stay out here all day jawing or can we go back to the platoon?" Dickenson sounded a bit put out.

"For once you're right Howie. Let's head back, can you walk okay Charlie?"

"Yup, I'm stiff but I can always fall downhill if I need to."

The evening of the failed attack...

SFC Bud Pedley knew that the Kraut ambush had cost them nine men, five dead in the tank and two more hit by debris when the tank exploded. Two guys wounded, the doc said one was fifty-fifty, if he got him down the hill fast enough, he might live.

Pedley went up to where the Krauts had ambushed them. Worth, Gaither, and Sullivan claimed there had been just a lone Kraut, Pedley thought that odd, so he looked around a bit, sure enough, he found a spot where another man must have been in hiding. He had run when the dead Kraut had fired.

He went back to where the dead German was, kid couldn't have been more than seventeen, maybe younger. He pulled open the kid's shelter half, got into his left tunic pocket and found his paybook. Saw the name, Wilhelm Stolz, saw his age, he was seventeen, just barely. His birthday had been two weeks ago.

Pocketing the paybook for the S2, Pedley went back down to the tankers. The senior guy was a Staff Sergeant Michaelson.

"Sarge, there's no way we can get through. Your lieutenant's tank is blocking the trail. To the left is a pretty steep bank, to the right the same. Unless you guys got a bulldozer hiding somewhere, we ain't going no further."

"I'm all for heading back down the way we came..." Michaelson began but he was interrupted by another tanker coming up the track.

Sgt Mac Peterson said, "No point in going back down, they'd just send us back up. I suggest we hold here, ask for orders. Hell, with a couple of tow chains, we can clear the trail in a few hours, then be back in business."

"We could just roll the lieutenant's tank down the hill, some chain and a winch should do it. You tankers have that stuff, right?" Pedley asked.

"Let me get on the horn to battalion, see what they want us to do. The sun is going down now, we're going to be stuck up here all night anyway, come the morning we'll see." Michaelson headed back to his tank, Peterson to his.

Pedley had his men start digging in, if an infantryman wasn't moving, he'd better be digging was his philosophy.

Just another day in the Green Hell of the Hürtgenwald in the autumn of 1944.

¹ An excellent documentary on the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest if you have the time (~42 minutes) to watch it.
² The German phrase for "it burns" is "es brennt."

Author's Note: I'll be traveling the next cuppla, blogging might be light. I'll try and keep you all appraised of the Americans and Germans struggling to stay alive in this story. I'm having a great time writing this. Hope you're enjoying reading it.

Sarge, out.


  1. Sersant! Love the story so far, you must really get this in book form. Very nice to have the situation from both sides perspective, the personal viewpoints and experience of all ranks is refreshing, really pulls you into the story.

  2. Enjoy is an understatement. I read your blog first thing each and every morning.

    That you for your hard work and sharing your writing skills.

    Travel safely.

  3. Charlie lives another day.....echo John in that here is the first stop on the daily blog patrol with Eaton Rapids Joe the second stop now that he's got a story going echoing the 2020 riots. Safe travels Sarge!

  4. Of all the blogs I read every morning, I save this one for morning dessert so to speak. You have a talent for keeping us on the edge. Publish this when you are done....I want a copy.

    1. (Don McCollor)...Save you for last in the evening after all the trivial blogs. You have a talent!!!...

  5. What Coffee Man said. But I put you in the middle. Of all the news and commentary I read, this is the cleanser. Reminds me that no matter how hard the day ahead is, at least I'm not taking incoming fire...... yet.

    Safe travels OAFS.

  6. My thoughts echo STxAR's - good read to got rid of the vile aftertaste from most of the 'news'. Really enjoying the fruits of your writing labor, Sarge. Safe journey to wherever, amigo.

  7. Great series, great perspective from both sides. I, too, look forward to each day's story. Keep up the writing. I'll second the motion on the floor to publish a book when your story is finished. I want the book to pass on to my grandchildren so they can read about men fighting under orders and for each other. Thanks. Keep up the great work.

  8. Hey AFSarge;

    I echo the sentiments of the others, If they can get the Sherman down to maintenance, there is a chance they can repair the tank, that was one of the secret weapons of the Americans was the speed we recover damaged vehicles and put them back in to combat, and if we couldn't repair the tank, we cannibalized it to repair others, and the Sherman design made it easier to do unlike the German mark IV, Panther or Tiger.

  9. Yay! Gammell's alive! And free! Whoo!

  10. Just want to let you that my group of 12 are always on me for the latest/next installment of this story.

    Several are avid WWII buffs and all comment how accurate your details are .
    Where do you find the time for all the necessary research?

    Enjoy your break. The mob will be disappointed , but they can just suffer.

    I keep them in line by threating to delete them from the mailing list.

  11. Yeah I'm hooked, you show some real talent at this.

  12. I have really enjoyed this saga, tune in everyday. Thank you sir!

  13. "I'm having a great time writing this. Hope you're enjoying reading it."

    Yes. Yes we are enjoying it! New installments are eagerly awaited and gratefully read at whatever pace you choose to release them.
    John Blackshoe

  14. 9 men out of action. Ouch... At least Germans did get hurt even more...

  15. Really enjoying this Sarge. What makes it almost unique is that you are treating both sides equally.

    We’re getting to know both sides

  16. I certainly am enjoying the story! Have a safe trip.

  17. And I'm enjoying the heck out of reading them

  18. AFSarge, Thank you . To echo others, I am always here now to catch up.


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